Donald Trump

Trump Tells CPAC: ‘Our Victory Was a Win for Conservative Values'

The president first spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011

President Donald Trump returned to many of his campaign promises, and hinted at some new action the White House will soon take, in a speech to thousands of conservatives gathered Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"Our victory was a win for conservative values," Trump said, pledging to support members of law enforcement, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and build a wall "soon, way ahead of schedule."

The call-back to the campaign trail included some popular phrases — and a jab at Hillary Clinton that elicited chants of "lock her up!" Trump reiterated his assurance that he will "put American first," saying there is no global flag, so that terrorism doesn't strike in the U.S.

And in looking forward, Trump vowed that would "never apologize" for protecting the safety of American people and promised "brand new action" in the coming days to protect the nation — a travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries was knocked down in court — and signaled more reforms are ahead for the nation's welfare system.

"It's time for all Americans to get off of welfare and get back to work. You're going to love it!" Trump said.

Trump is the first president to address the group during his first year in office since Ronald Reagan in 1981, according to the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the conference, who called that a "huge sign of respect."

It is a return to an early scene of Trump's political activism on the national stage. 

Trump first stepped out before the nation's largest gathering of conservative activists six years ago, as the "money, money, money, money" chorus of his reality TV show's theme song blasted. The crowd was less than adoring, occasionally laughing at and booing the longtime former Democrat.

Now president, Trump took the CPAC stage to a standing ovation Friday.

"All of these years we've been together, and now you finally have a president," Trump told the conservatives gathered at a resort in Maryland. "Took you a long time."

Trump's speech was designed to be one of appreciation, White House senior strategist Steve Bannon said Thursday. "He understands, at CPAC there are many, many, many voices," he said. "This is the room where he got his launch."

But Trump opened the speech with more attacks on the media, calling fake news "the enemy of the people." In a Feb. 17 tweet, he called out The New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and CNN as fake news.

"They have a professional obligation as members of the press to report honestly," Trump said Friday, but insisted that the press "doesn't represent the people, it never will represent the people and we're going to do something it." 

Bannon said Breitbart News, which he led before joining Trump's team last summer, and other conservative outlets first took note of the brash billionaire at his CPAC debut. And that's where Trump first began understanding the conservatives who years later would help him win the presidency.

"He wasn't familiar with CPAC when we introduced the concept to him," said Roger Stone, Trump's longtime informal political adviser. He said he thought Trump did quite well in that first appearance — "when you consider that he's not a pure ideologue. He's a populist with conservative instincts."

Stone and a gay Republican group had arranged the last-minute appearance, which Trump locked in with a donation to the ACU.

Although Trump returned most years afterward, he was notably absent last year. ACU chairman Matt Schlapp said the presidential candidates were asked to participate in a question-and-answer session, but Trump wanted to make a speech.

He did show up in 2015, however, a few months before he announced his candidacy.

"I am really inclined. I want to do it so badly," Trump said about the likelihood he'd run. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker were the top two choices in that year's straw poll.

Now, CPAC is largely the Trump show — "TPAC," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway called it. She, Bannon and other administration officials spoke Thursday, and Vice President Mike Pence gave a keynote address.

Trump's first speech to the group bore little resemblance to the mega-rallies that were the hallmark of his presidential campaign, although many of the themes were the same. He read from papers on a lectern. He appeared to eye the crowd nervously.

No one in the crowd cheered or applauded when he explained why he might run for president.

He vowed to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. He promised to create "vast numbers of productive jobs" and not to raise taxes. A Trump presidency, he predicted, would mean for the U.S. "hundreds of billions of dollars from other countries that are screwing us."

He appeared to test-drive the "make America great again" phrase that would become his 2016 presidential campaign slogan. "Our country will be great again," he said. He trademarked that phrase in 2012, just after Mitt Romney lost to Obama.

And he told the skeptical crowd: "I have a reputation for telling it like it is. I'm known for my candor."

He seemed to back that up later.

Near the end of the speech he told the skeptical crowd that he was only thinking about running because he didn't like any of the potential candidates — prompting shouts of "Ron Paul" to break out. A Texas congressman at the time, Paul was a fan favorite of CPAC and won its straw poll that year.

Trump looked amused and shook his head. "By the way, Ron Paul cannot get elected, I'm sorry." he said. Loud boos erupted as Trump reiterated, "Zero chance of getting elected."

An angry audience member shouted: "You have zero chance of getting elected."

NBC's Asher Klein and Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

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